Margie Warrell on having courage to break the rules

As useful as rules can be, there are times we need to have the courage to break them.

It’s a well-worn saying that rules are meant to be broken. Not all the time and not every time. Rules do, of course, serve a purpose. They bring structure to our lives and order to our society. However, like all things in life, blindly doing something because we’re told we ‘should’ and not because we can see how it genuinely makes sense or truly serves us, is never a good reason to do it. Which is why, as useful as rules can be, there are times we need to have the courage to break them.

Sometimes bravery calls for rebellion.

Too often we let the ‘rules’— both explicit and unwritten — dictate what we do, how we do it and who we become in the process. Blindly and compliantly living by rules that keep us from fulfilling our deepest needs and desires (assuming we aren’t narcissists or psychopaths) doesn’t serve anyone. Here are some of the rules people have shared with me which, at the time, were not serving them, but which they were following anyway for fear of violating a social, organisational or family norm:

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  • You must do what your boss says, no matter what.
  • You must attend regular networking events.
  • You must send your children to the best schools you can afford.
  • You must also get said kids a tutor.
  • You must respect religious traditions.
  • You must spend at least two years in a job before moving on.
  • You must find a secure career and avoid risk.
  • You must stay in your marriage, no matter what.

To all of these, you must respond ‘Says who?!”

When people tell me I ‘simply must’ do something (like sign my kids up for some class, join an association or buy some new software program), it tells me more about them than whatever they’re pushing. As Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants, ‘No one says “You must give birth to a baby when you go into labour”, because when you really must do something, you don’t need to say it!’

Game changers are rule breakers

“Heck, there are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison

The people who change the world are those who refuse to play by the rules. If you look at the companies today that are breaking new ground, you’ll find they’re the ones being steered by leaders who refuse to follow the old rules of business management, marketing or anything else. YouTube broke the rule that videos are meant for the television screen. Amazon broke the rule that people only want books they can hold in their hand. Dell broke the rule that people only wanted to buy their electronics in stores. And Apple? They totally rewrote the rule books. As Steve Jobs once said, “The people [rule breakers] who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

We must regularly question the rules that govern our lives, lest they rule us.

Rules should ultimately expand your freedom to live the life you want, not restrict it. So whether it’s how you’re launching your products, managing your team, raising your kids or structuring your life, be mindful that in order to pursue the biggest life you truly want to live, you’ll have to break the rules that govern how others live theirs. Of course that may lead to a falling out in relations with some, but don’t kid yourself about the cost of compliance. All that truly matters is that you don’t become an unwitting victim of the ‘musts, rules and shoulds’ of those around you.

You know it’s time to break your own rules when your desire to make yourself happy grows larger than your desire to keep others happy.

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So before you renew the contract, spend the money or make one more big decision, take a moment to check in with your inner sage and ask yourself, ‘Is this what I truly want to do, or am I simply afraid of the consequences of choosing something else?’
“You are remembered by the rules you break,” said General Douglas MacArthur. It takes courage to live life on your own terms, to resist the pressure to comply with the rules others want you to live by and to meet the expectations they have for you.

So start by breaking some small rules and build from there.

  • Make your own plans.
  • Chart your own course.
  • Express your own style.
  • Speak your own thoughts.
  • Build your own life.

Life’s too short to be lived by anyone’s rules but your own. Sometimes bravery calls for rebellion!
Margie Warrell is a bestselling author, women’s leadership coach and international speaker. Check out her Live Brave Women’s Weekend and watch her videos at